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The Lounge>Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen Looked Unstoppable. This Defense Stopped Them.
MahomesMagic 02:44 PM 11-24-2021
Defenses are increasingly using schemes that guard against big gains, and it’s helping quash the big-time plays that have taken the NFL by storm in recent years.

By Andrew Beaton

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen walked into an October matchup against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars as the leader of the NFL’s highest-scoring team, a Super Bowl favorite that routinely exploded for huge gains.

But against one of the NFL’s worst teams, Allen ran into a problem: a popular defensive scheme teams are reviving specifically to contain quarterbacks like him and Patrick Mahomes, the types of players who can torch defenses with a single flick of their wrists.

Defenses are using “two-high” schemes more and more to limit the big-time plays that have taken the NFL by storm in recent years. There are various varieties of two-high concepts, but the general idea is that it involves two safeties who camp out deep down the field to guard against big gains.

Against the Jaguars, when the Bills saw their high-powered offense get unplugged in a 9-6 loss, Allen saw these defensive looks 57% of the time—more than he had in any regular season game over the last three seasons, according to Sports Info Solutions. Allen saw a lot of it again on Sunday in the Bills’ 41-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

“Offenses have to adjust,” says Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, “and find ways to attack it.”

Dungy is an authority on the subject as an architect of perhaps the most famous two-high defense in NFL history. When Dungy was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach from 1996 to 2001, his team mastered a variant of the “Cover-2” defense, in which two safeties each sit deep and cover half of the field. It was so iconic it became eponymous: the Tampa-2 defense.

The scheme eventually fell out of vogue and evolved—the Tampa-2 defense isn’t suddenly re-emerging to reconquer professional football. But the general philosophies behind it are increasingly prevalent. While Cover-2 accounts for only around 10%-12% of snaps these days, the number of two-high snaps—which include other variations featuring four deep defenders, like “quarters”—is up to about 36%.
That’s a jump from 29% just a few years ago, according to SIS.

The fundamental idea driving all of these types of schemes is the same. With defenders focused on closing off areas farther down the field, the space closer to the line of scrimmage is more open. In effect, it dares offenses to beat them by running the ball or throwing short passes—and getting down the field through a collection of small gains in lieu of a few big ones.

“That is the opposing teams’ motivation for doing this stuff,” said Bryce Rossler, who works in research and development at SIS.

It’s a trade-off defenses are willing to make because they have accepted a reality: offenses are better and more explosive than ever. In 2020, offenses averaged 24.8 points per game—more than a point higher than at any point in NFL history. Modern offenses throw the ball more than ever, march down the field easier than ever, and defenses are increasingly incentivized to concede smaller gains because they suddenly had so much trouble preventing the bigger ones.

The Chiefs are the ultimate example of a team that vertically attacks the field with a quarterback in Mahomes who led the NFL in 2020 in passing plays that went for at least 15 yards. But in 2021, he’s running into an inordinate number of these two-high looks in response: Entering Sunday’s action, he had seen them 55.8% of the time—or about 55% more often than the league average.

That has been part of a steady increase. In 2019, when Mahomes won the Super Bowl, he saw two-high 31.1% of the time. In 2020, he saw it 49.2% of the time.

“The intermediate passing game is how you attack that, but if you don’t like to throw intermediate passes and you don’t like to run, it can be tough,” Dungy says. “If you make a team take eight or 10 plays, you have a chance to create some havoc and cause an error.”

In the season when Mahomes is seeing it even more than that, he has gone through the worst struggles of his career. He has thrown 11 interceptions, or as many as he tossed over the previous two years combined. He averaged 8.4 yards per attempt entering this year, and that’s down to 7.1 in 2021. Even Kansas City’s offensive output in Sunday’s 19-9 win against the Dallas Cowboys was paltry compared with the Chiefs’ norms over the past few years.



The problem for offenses like the Chiefs and Bills is they thrive on going deep and aren’t as accustomed to nickeling and diming their way down the field. On early downs, excluding situations when the game is out of hand, Kansas City has passed 62.3% of the time—the second most often in the league entering Sunday’s games, according to rbsdm.com.



The team that’s far and away first in that early-down passing metric: the Bills, at 68.7%.


Typically, that’s one of the things that makes their offenses cutting-edge and effective. But their struggles to do that against these defenses they’re seeing more often has weaponized their own styles against them.





On Mahomes’s snaps against two-high coverage, he has averaged 0.014 expected points added (EPA) entering Sunday. That number—essentially zero—means that, on average, when Mahomes goes up against this defense the Chiefs’ projection to score isn’t really improving relative to their opponents’ chances. That’s far below the average quarterback EPA. In layman’s speak it says that Mahomes, the greatest quarterback of his generation, has been neutralized against these defenses in 2021.

What’s curious is that the more Mahomes has gone up against these schemes, the worse he has fared. When he saw them 31% of the time in 2019, he averaged 0.2 EPA—a strong number, even though it sags behind his overall rate. In 2020, when that shot up to 49%, the EPA dipped to 0.12. Then in 2021, defenses have essentially made forms of two-high their base look against Mahomes—and they’re reaping the benefits.

Allen hasn’t struggled quite as much as Mahomes in these situations, with 0.187 EPA against two-high going into Sunday. But it has also been deployed against him effectively, with the past few weeks showing how. The team that used it most against him, the Jaguars, limited what had been the NFL’s best offense to its worst output of the season. Allen, afterward, said Jacksonville used “two-high shells forcing us to throw underneath” and that he didn’t do a good enough job against it.

“We’re going to learn from this,” he added.

Fortunately for Allen, the next week he played the New York Jets, who apparently didn’t know much about this. They used two-high just three times against him—and Allen torched them in a 45-17 win.

That changed again Sunday. The Colts showered him with those looks. Allen struggled, again. He threw two interceptions and ended the game on the bench after getting blown out 41-15.

Write to Andrew Beaton at andrew.beaton@wsj.com

Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the November 23, 2021, print edition as 'NFL Defenses Are Striking Back.'

https://www.wsj.com/articles/josh-al...hare_permalink
[Reply]
chiefzilla1501 04:50 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by FringeNC:
It's not like he hasn't seen these defenses before. I'd argue the bigger problem is the pass-blocking of the offensive tackles and the loss of Watkins as a legitimate #2 WR.
If you want to play the bright side game it’s forced mahomes to learn good habits in the pocket. Gonna be a hell of a sight when he gets a halfway decent wr2
[Reply]
KCChiefsFan88 04:52 PM 11-24-2021
When did Josh Allen look “unstoppable”?

When he was padding his stats against shitty competition and completing 15 passes against mostly blown coverages by Dan Sorensen vs KC?
[Reply]
MGRS13 04:58 PM 11-24-2021
What surprises me the most, is although the chiefs run numerous crossing patterns, they don’t run actual slants much. It seems Gordon would/should excel at this.
[Reply]
MahomesMagic 05:01 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by KCChiefsFan88:
When did Josh Allen look “unstoppable”?

When he was padding his stats against shitty competition and completing 15 passes against mostly blown coverages by Dan Sorensen vs KC?
2 High works for completely different reasons on Allen. You do 2 high and flood the intermediate areas with coverage and Allen struggles because he doesn't throw with anticipation.

KC it's a combination of 2 high, closing RPO windows, and our lack of a #2 WR.

It's not that we can't beat 2 high. Just in the rock paper scissors game teams see we have paper and keep choosing scissors.
[Reply]
Rainbarrel 05:10 PM 11-24-2021
Andrew Beantown, more like it.
[Reply]
Marcellus 05:25 PM 11-24-2021

⬜️ No. 1 in passing yards
⬜️ No. 2 in passing TDs
⬜️ No. 1 in the AFC West (7-4)
⬜️ Four straight wins

Did you write off Patrick Mahomes too soon? pic.twitter.com/5h89h0w4nq

— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) November 24, 2021

[Reply]
Bearcat 05:32 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Chiefspants:
Mahomes leads the league in passing yards, he's 2nd** in touchdowns, and our offense is in the Top 5 in most categories.

Clean up the turnovers (which are still an issue) and this narrative will die a quick death like the talking point that Andy had turned Patrick into Alex Smith leading into the 2019 playoffs.

**EDIT
Yeah, the amazing thing about their offense in the past few years has been how efficient and mistake-free it's been with what's generally a low margin for error if you're scoring 30+ every single game. And it didn't matter who they've played the past few seasons, they were going to either win or only lose by at most one possession.

There are countless moments where you could 'what if' forever and they would have lost a few more games, lost the SB, lost to the Browns in the playoffs... and those types of things have happened this year and sometimes at an alarming rate.

It's one thing to say "we're really damn spoiled" as it's happening (and it's said around here all the time), but another to pump the brakes on the panic when that moment is (temporarily) over and say.... uh, seriously, we were really spoiled.

The only thing I'd say stat-wise though is that we're currently using it much the same way the Bills did last season or Dak Prescott fans.... I mean, the Chiefs have had an incredibly difficult schedule compared to the rest of the league, but there is still a sense of "prove it" when it comes to playing the better teams in the league, IMO, given the recent struggles. Not sure how much I'd put into the Cowboys win given their injuries and well, it's the Cowboys.... hopefully they can beat up on the inferior teams from here on out and then get back to form against the contenders in the playoffs.
[Reply]
DRM08 05:34 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by JakeF:
Maybe the Chiefs can hire Dungy to come in and explain the weaknesses of a defense he used for so many years. It would be good to have fresh perspective to help Mahomes out.
Can Dungy fix the turnovers being caused by other guys? The Kelce INT stole at least 3 points (maybe 7 points) from KC and directly gave 3 points to Dallas. Stuff like this needs to stop happening.
[Reply]
carcosa 05:38 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by MahomesMagic:
Defenses are increasingly using schemes that guard against big gains, and it’s helping quash the big-time plays that have taken the NFL by storm in recent years.

By Andrew Beaton

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen walked into an October matchup against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars as the leader of the NFL’s highest-scoring team, a Super Bowl favorite that routinely exploded for huge gains.

But against one of the NFL’s worst teams, Allen ran into a problem: a popular defensive scheme teams are reviving specifically to contain quarterbacks like him and Patrick Mahomes, the types of players who can torch defenses with a single flick of their wrists.

Defenses are using “two-high” schemes more and more to limit the big-time plays that have taken the NFL by storm in recent years. There are various varieties of two-high concepts, but the general idea is that it involves two safeties who camp out deep down the field to guard against big gains.

Against the Jaguars, when the Bills saw their high-powered offense get unplugged in a 9-6 loss, Allen saw these defensive looks 57% of the time—more than he had in any regular season game over the last three seasons, according to Sports Info Solutions. Allen saw a lot of it again on Sunday in the Bills’ 41-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

“Offenses have to adjust,” says Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, “and find ways to attack it.”

Dungy is an authority on the subject as an architect of perhaps the most famous two-high defense in NFL history. When Dungy was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach from 1996 to 2001, his team mastered a variant of the “Cover-2” defense, in which two safeties each sit deep and cover half of the field. It was so iconic it became eponymous: the Tampa-2 defense.

The scheme eventually fell out of vogue and evolved—the Tampa-2 defense isn’t suddenly re-emerging to reconquer professional football. But the general philosophies behind it are increasingly prevalent. While Cover-2 accounts for only around 10%-12% of snaps these days, the number of two-high snaps—which include other variations featuring four deep defenders, like “quarters”—is up to about 36%.
That’s a jump from 29% just a few years ago, according to SIS.

The fundamental idea driving all of these types of schemes is the same. With defenders focused on closing off areas farther down the field, the space closer to the line of scrimmage is more open. In effect, it dares offenses to beat them by running the ball or throwing short passes—and getting down the field through a collection of small gains in lieu of a few big ones.

“That is the opposing teams’ motivation for doing this stuff,” said Bryce Rossler, who works in research and development at SIS.

It’s a trade-off defenses are willing to make because they have accepted a reality: offenses are better and more explosive than ever. In 2020, offenses averaged 24.8 points per game—more than a point higher than at any point in NFL history. Modern offenses throw the ball more than ever, march down the field easier than ever, and defenses are increasingly incentivized to concede smaller gains because they suddenly had so much trouble preventing the bigger ones.

The Chiefs are the ultimate example of a team that vertically attacks the field with a quarterback in Mahomes who led the NFL in 2020 in passing plays that went for at least 15 yards. But in 2021, he’s running into an inordinate number of these two-high looks in response: Entering Sunday’s action, he had seen them 55.8% of the time—or about 55% more often than the league average.

That has been part of a steady increase. In 2019, when Mahomes won the Super Bowl, he saw two-high 31.1% of the time. In 2020, he saw it 49.2% of the time.

“The intermediate passing game is how you attack that, but if you don’t like to throw intermediate passes and you don’t like to run, it can be tough,” Dungy says. “If you make a team take eight or 10 plays, you have a chance to create some havoc and cause an error.”

In the season when Mahomes is seeing it even more than that, he has gone through the worst struggles of his career. He has thrown 11 interceptions, or as many as he tossed over the previous two years combined. He averaged 8.4 yards per attempt entering this year, and that’s down to 7.1 in 2021. Even Kansas City’s offensive output in Sunday’s 19-9 win against the Dallas Cowboys was paltry compared with the Chiefs’ norms over the past few years.



The problem for offenses like the Chiefs and Bills is they thrive on going deep and aren’t as accustomed to nickeling and diming their way down the field. On early downs, excluding situations when the game is out of hand, Kansas City has passed 62.3% of the time—the second most often in the league entering Sunday’s games, according to rbsdm.com.



The team that’s far and away first in that early-down passing metric: the Bills, at 68.7%.


Typically, that’s one of the things that makes their offenses cutting-edge and effective. But their struggles to do that against these defenses they’re seeing more often has weaponized their own styles against them.





On Mahomes’s snaps against two-high coverage, he has averaged 0.014 expected points added (EPA) entering Sunday. That number—essentially zero—means that, on average, when Mahomes goes up against this defense the Chiefs’ projection to score isn’t really improving relative to their opponents’ chances. That’s far below the average quarterback EPA. In layman’s speak it says that Mahomes, the greatest quarterback of his generation, has been neutralized against these defenses in 2021.

What’s curious is that the more Mahomes has gone up against these schemes, the worse he has fared. When he saw them 31% of the time in 2019, he averaged 0.2 EPA—a strong number, even though it sags behind his overall rate. In 2020, when that shot up to 49%, the EPA dipped to 0.12. Then in 2021, defenses have essentially made forms of two-high their base look against Mahomes—and they’re reaping the benefits.

Allen hasn’t struggled quite as much as Mahomes in these situations, with 0.187 EPA against two-high going into Sunday. But it has also been deployed against him effectively, with the past few weeks showing how. The team that used it most against him, the Jaguars, limited what had been the NFL’s best offense to its worst output of the season. Allen, afterward, said Jacksonville used “two-high shells forcing us to throw underneath” and that he didn’t do a good enough job against it.

“We’re going to learn from this,” he added.

Fortunately for Allen, the next week he played the New York Jets, who apparently didn’t know much about this. They used two-high just three times against him—and Allen torched them in a 45-17 win.

That changed again Sunday. The Colts showered him with those looks. Allen struggled, again. He threw two interceptions and ended the game on the bench after getting blown out 41-15.

Write to Andrew Beaton at andrew.beaton@wsj.com

Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the November 23, 2021, print edition as 'NFL Defenses Are Striking Back.'

https://www.wsj.com/articles/josh-al...hare_permalink
Ok
[Reply]
Chief Pagan 05:39 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Pasta Little Brother:
All bullshit. Flat out wide open drops many leading to turnovers is the only reason they aren't 9-2 and the offense stalls at times.
Sure, but forcing long drives gives more opportunities for things to go wrong.
[Reply]
Marcellus 05:44 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Chief Pagan:
Sure, but forcing long drives gives more opportunities for things to go wrong.
Then why doesn't every team just run this defense against every other team with sucess?
[Reply]
Hammock Parties 05:48 PM 11-24-2021
Leads the league and passing and 2nd in TDs :-)
[Reply]
Rausch 05:51 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Chief Pagan:
Sure, but forcing long drives gives more opportunities for things to go wrong.
Exactly. And KC has always made dumb mistakes and had dropped passes while Pat has been here. Hell, the year we won the SB we started off every single playoff game in a whole because of it.

The big plays always came and allowed us to overcome the smaller setbacks. This year even Kelcee is dropping an easy catch on almost a weekly basis. Robinson always has. Hardman makes inexcusable mental errors and bad football decisions.

With the defense starting slow, an entirely new O line, and a hard schedule the first half of the year it was too much to overcome.
[Reply]
KCChiefsFan88 05:52 PM 11-24-2021
Mahomes 25 TD’s 5 INT’s and 6 dropped/deflected passes by his pass catchers that ended up getting recovered by the defense.
[Reply]
Rausch 05:53 PM 11-24-2021
Originally Posted by Marcellus:
Then why doesn't every team just run this defense against every other team with sucess?
Because every team in the league other than Buffalo and KC will just run the football until they quit...
[Reply]
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